Stalham Academy, What Went Right? Lesson#2: Dive in Head first.

This is the second instalment of the Stalham Academy series, which investigates how a reeling Norfolk primary in special measures could reach UK top-500 in two years – for a £900 CPD investment.

In the previous post, we discussed the importance of knowing what you want. This second post examines the steps from the first CPD session to effective deployment of Cooperative Learning in the classrooms.

The Skills & Mastery course was delivered in three blocks of two hours after school, rather than one big, mind-numbing 6-hour inset. Not only does this mean there is no cost for cover, the bite-size format helps ensure no-one chokes.

It also distributes the cost over several months. At Stalham Academy, we did three CLIPs per session, 24 September 2014, 3 December 2014 and 11 February 2015, starting with the more versatile and working towards the more targeted, complex  CLIPs as teachers found their footing between sessions. My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day.

My objective is always that whatever is trained is applicable the following day. Because Andrew Howard had a vision for his school, and had taken the time to attentively go through the “instruction manual” with me, he was way ahead of the curve on this.

Mr Howard had, and has, a fundamental understanding that the Teaching & Learning is the core product of any school and that nice buildings, interactive whiteboards, intelligent assessment and budget systems, etc. are mere ancillaries to this.

Rather than sit in his office meeting out orders like some Lord Kitchener he did what real leaders do. They lead from the front. He actively used the CLIPs in his own teaching, working with Ms Gillespie and other SLT to quickly establish the best practice that would drive the vision he had already outlined to staff. He used what he learned from his own classes, and based on experiences he and his team demonstrated and observed lessons, coached, advised, and supported teachers, creating not only an engaged and excited shared learning environment, but a ditto teaching environment. And don’t teachers deserve that?

Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns are comprised of very simple steps, but precisely therein lies their complexity. Consider Think-Pair-Share, often attributed to Frank Lyman. Many, many teachers use it all the time – but most could massively improve the outcome of this activity by being aware of their timing of the stages, their modelling of specific outcomes, written evidence, and language, their use of sub-tasks, etc.

180 seconds of well-executed, targeted Think-Pair-Share – 30 seconds to think in absolute silence, jotting down 2-3 key terms, 60 seconds to discuss in pairs and 90 seconds minutes to share, directly with one partner only to secure accountability – will get you more than fifteen minutes of the sloppy, slippery and nebulous  version of the exact same activity.

This is why the more experienced members of senior leadership need to be in the classrooms. Not to micro-manage, judge and spy, but to give brief feedback that is practical and applicable.

Because Cooperative Learning is “instant coffee” outstanding teaching (just add pupils and stir) it does not take complex feedback to get really amazing results from teachers – even those who were on the verge of leaving the profession.

Essentially, observing SLT members simply draw attention to the checklist issued to everyone during the CPD – in 95% of the cases, the reason things are not optimal is because the simple basics were ignored, e.g.  the task is unsuitable for the CLIP, such as asking a closed question in a Think-Pair-Share: “What is the answer to the first task on your paper; 45 minus 56? Just turn to your (A partners) when you are done, and then to your (B partners)” 

Try this instead:

“You have one minute to work out as many of the tasks as you can on your worksheet, then you have 30 seconds to compare your method and results with your (A partners) and 30 seconds to share with your (B partners). Resolve any disagreements. If your team has resolved any and all differences when we finish, the whole team puts your hands up. I will time you. Go!”

Differentiation, because HAPs can keep working in Think stage – with written evidence. Then compare results, to promote language, higher level thinking, peer learning. Same result, good, next one. Not same, why?! Your partner didn’t do a single one? Help him work it out as best you can, or help each other (“Bob, the negative number is the larger of the two, you see? So the answer should be negative”) generating automatic, personalised and highly differentiated peer learning and feedback -across the whole class simultaneously.

The higher ability especially benefits from the metacognitive element, as s/he reflects on her own understanding to make it accessible to struggling peers, but in order to ask a relevant question, the lower ability pupils need to formulate what precisely they don’t understand. Feedback and Metacognition give 8 months of additional progress per pupil per year, according to the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit.

The “hands-up” add a sometimes beneficial competitive element. In the end, the teams that have their hands down are the ones you need to support. (But then you already knew that because you were monitoring, weren’t you?)

That took about 30 seconds to stage, and two minutes to execute. And all the observer needs to say is: “Always let Think-Pair-Share task volume be open-ended, and make sure they investigate why there is sometimes a difference between results. Otherwise good.” 

Quoting the Toolkit, “…it is important to get the details right.” And this is where SLT and the (acting) head stepped up at Stalham Academy in the weeks following the CPD.

Coming up: Ordered deployment or everything at once?  Stay updated on Twitter.

Interviews with Stalham Academy staff here. Reflections from senior leadership from Stalham and elsewhere here.

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werdelin.co.uk is the business end of cooperativelearning.works.

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